Help us provide housing for Black and trans, housing-insecure artists!
During the month of June, in the midst of the BLM protests in New York, Angel, Danyele, Donte, Rj, and Stev–the Artists in Residents (AIRs)—were invited by People’s Spac —a group of artists from our 02020 initiative—to work with Performance Space New York. What started as a project to offer refuge for protesters quickly shifted to a mutual aid space for those facing houselessness. After securing temporary housing for the AIRs, it soon became apparent that the five artists needed a more permanent solution.
People’s Space and Performance Space are now helping the AIRs raise funds to collectively purchase a home outside of NYC, and to provide seed funding for their artistic careers. With your support, the AIRs will be able to secure both long-term housing for themselves and eventually other houseless, Black and trans artists.
Help us raise $60,000 by October 20 to lift up impacted communities and most of all, help keep them safe, sustained and supported!
The donation will not go to Performance Space; 100% of the proceeds will go directly to the AIRs.
With her background in performance art, product design, and African American studies and her time in the Mainstream and Kiki ballroom scenes in Washington, D.C., Danyele Brown considers movement as inseparable from community. She seeks to build her practice of trans-utilitarianism—performance, design, and products constructing worlds that support and center trans bodies and experiences.
Since coming to The People’s Space during a time of houselessness, Brown has developed—and will continue to perform through December—the durational installation Confessional, which she describes as about feeling, as a Black trans woman, “forced into a confessional box, where public space becomes private, intimate space based around other people’s expectations.”
Once a week, on the street, Brown enacts this installation of self-sustaining withholding as, one-by-one, observers bring their expectations to the confessional. She says, “Here, I keep everything to myself as a performer. There’s a big-ass gate between me and the expectations they bring to my body, so I don’t have to perform in the ways I have to perform sometimes in the real world.”
Donte McKenzie is a recording artist, singer, and street artist who, since first hearing about and finding community at The People’s Space, developed a keen interest in large-scale painting. He says, “I’ve been wondering why I’ve been wanting to paint—and I feel like I was hit with a ghost when I found out that Keith Haring was there making stuff. I feel like I have to make some crazy shit. I just want to do this every day.”
McKenzie, who has a young son, has been struck by how therapeutic painting seems for him. After securing housing for himself and his peers, providing space and arts educational programs for children and youth experiencing houselessness and/or living in poverty factor centrally within his vision of the potentials of the fundraiser.
“Just a few months ago, I was homeless, staying in abandoned places, staying on roofs, staying in boiler rooms,” he says, emphasizing the precedence housing takes, as a fundamental need, within this vision. “I don’t want it to be, you make art and then you sleep on a train; or you make art and then you stay in a shelter with crazy, mean jail-like rules.”
Painter, photographer, and culinary artist Rj Eve Mertus came to The People’s Space following its transformation into a mutual aid site, FREE CRIB 4 BLACK LIVES, and space for dreaming of and enacting alternate structures for—and well beyond—the art world. Mertus, whose goal for long-term housing includes space to simply create, invite people, and show work, recalls, “The People’s Space gave me room to finally work and have an enclosed space to show the imagery of what I know.”
Dreams, galaxies, Gods, history, human anatomy, and anthropology are encompassed and abstracted in Mertus’s canvasses, which the artist also sees as a revelation of pieces of his life and emotional world—not to mention a revelation of the viewer’s own. Though his artistry began with photography, this expressionistic approach to painting has been pivotal in the aftermath of a brain injury he survived a year-and-a-half ago that temporarily impaired his communication abilities.
He describes, “I lost a lot of cognitive skills and the ability to comprehend what was going on. It was a rough patch in my life, and I’m trying to display that in my art, to give a sequence of how my life came to be. I’m putting my whole life on canvas. As a young Black gentleman showing memories as well as my outlook on life, I want to give others an outlet to not be scared of what people think.”
Surrounding the fundraiser, Mertus will display work as well as launch a bottled barbecue sauce.
With considerable experience in community work—having founded a program (LARA — Los Angeles Run(a)way Angels) helping houseless trans folks in Los Angeles move out of tents—Angel Robertson has been a vocal advocate for the necessity of housing for her, the other AIRs, and in turn other artists with similar experiences.
She says, “To make sure we’re okay is the first step for collective members—but then we all want to figure out who else needs the most help. This is a rare opportunity for independent artists. The overall goal is to actually give back with a house for artists and gear them towards a transitional future. I can’t honestly say we can fix anything but we can try to make it better for them by providing a place for developing themselves, knowing people in the collective have walked in their shoes already.”
For the coming months, Robertson is organizing three events at the intersection of this campaign and the broader context of the uprising for Black lives—and Black trans lives—in America, including a teach-in at Union Square, a ball on the pier, and a large-scale choreographed demonstration in Tompkins Square Park.
Robertson aims to further move into work in arts administration and curation, demanding the reallocation of art world resources towards marginalized communities. “These are very lucrative systems, but they are often not meant for people that look like me or carry the background that I carry,” she says.
Stev is a digital and video artist whose self-curating, self-presentational works teem with references to the 90s and 2000s pop culture she absorbed growing up—styling herself to emulate the likes of Bratz and Monster High dolls, and using Instagram as a stage [@stev_.__]. Though not houseless herself, Stev became an Artist in Resident and key coordinator and visionary of the crowdfunding campaign through her immersion in the community that grew around The People’s Space (which she was introduced to by Danyele Brown, with whom she shares a background in the ballroom scene, walking for the House of Nina Oricci).
Stev has submitted proposals to and is working with Performance Space New York to consider means of continued engagement with AIRs and community-centric artistic creation following the fundraiser. Through her discussions with Performance Space New York and the collective vision for artist housing, Stev advocates for spaces where a “gaggle of geese” of artists — dancers, cosmetic artists, pianists, anyone — can access logistical support just as much as support with their craft—writing cover letters, forming connections.
She says, “People who don’t have the means to attend college can really feel shit out of luck when they’re trying to pursue their art but don’t know the right people. Sometimes you can’t even get into the room because it’s like, ‘Oh sweetie, who do you know?’ Marginalized trans artists have given so much to the world—or have had their own experiences taken from them, whether it’s appreciative or not—and I feel like we’re now in a time where it’s okay to be selfish and take for ourselves what we need. Opening the door, shaking the room, and busting down windows for people who otherwise wouldn’t have had that opportunity is super important.”